Saturday, February 27, 2016

Oscar's O, Aight?

I don't know, I have to find something clever to title this post. If you're looking for the food post, I'll do that one Monday.

For many years now, I've been doing an Oscar prediction/analysis post. Some years it's more fun than others. Some years we get really good movies, some years we get movies that are good, but I don't necessarily want to see them again, and some years we get crap.

This year, the Best Picture noms don't have any crap. In fact, of the 8 nominees, there's only one that I'm putting in the "this was good, but I don't feel like seeing it twice" column (that'd be Brooklyn). The rest of them, even the heavier ones, I'd be willing to rewatch (and in one case, actively eager). The nominees got a few things right this year, so let's start by talking about what they did wrong.

First, as we know, for the second year in a row, the acting categories are all white. All five directors are white (other than maybe Inarritu; I've heard him described both as a POC and not, and I'm not touching it). All of the directors are male. We've got a cis man playing a transwoman, again. I have to point out that this isn't really a trend for the Academy; TMK it's happened twice now (though we also got a cis woman playing a transwoman back in 2005).

The nominees themselves have responded to this with a pretty wide variety of bullshit. Meryl Streep (who isn't nominated this year, for a change) gave her "we're all Africans, really" thing. Charlotte Rampling actually used the phrased "racist to white people." And so forth. A couple of folks planned to stay home on Oscar night, some have changed their minds. One of the arguments (and I'm sure someone famous has made it, but I can't think who offhand) is the "well, I guess there weren't any deserving POC this year."

Bullshit, and to my shame, I can't name any other than Will Smith (who I think should have gotten the Best Actor nom over Matt Damon) and Idris Elba (I haven't seen Beasts of No Nation, but I'm reliably informed it's good and he got robbed). I also wouldn't have been sad to see Michael B. Jordan get a Best Actor nod, or for Ryan Coogler to get a Best Director nom, for that matter.

The point is, though, that Oscar nominations often bring movies I wouldn't otherwise have seen to my attention. Sure, I'd have seen The Revenant either way, but I doubt very much I'd have known about Room or bothered to see Spotlight. If the Oscars are going to remain at all relevant, they have to get to the point that they're rewarding and recognizing the interesting stuff, not just the establishment.

And you can sneer at that if you want, but look at the Best Picture nominees this year versus last year. Never mind the lack of POC among the acting or directing noms; that's a known issue. But the movies themselves? Last year, not a single movie starred a woman. Not one. And if you look at the Best Actress race last year, only one of those actresses was from a Best Picture Nominee. The rest were from movies actually starring a woman.

This year? Of the eight nominees, three of them unquestionably star woman. That's still not enough, granted, but it's a hell of a lot better than none. The movies don't end on complete downers, either; while the subject matter for most of them is heavy (comedies don't get nominated often), none of the stories is purely tragic. If the movies end with forward movement, with progress, with hope, then I think that's something to take some comfort in.

Anyway, enough blather. Let's start off with an easy one.

Best Actor: This is a lock for Leonardo DiCaprio, but let's talk about why. The movie is all him, and it's a long, brutal, demanding movie. It demanded a lot of him physically and emotionally, and you can tell (never mind the whole "he's a vegetarian who ate raw bison liver for the role" thing, that's just icing on the cake). Also, he doesn't have a heck of a lot of dialog, but still manages to convey everything he needs to convey, and that's always impressive for me.

Now, for the other four fellas. I kinda feel like Matt Damon shouldn't have been nominated here, for two reasons. First, it's one more slot given up for a white guy. Second, while his performance in The Martian was good, the movie's strength is in the ensemble cast, and I really wish they'd just add a category for that.

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo was pretty awesome, I have to say. It's a man standing on his principles even though doing so really kind of fucks him, and I think he really brought that role to life. Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, I could kind of take or leave, but I wasn't fond of the movie. I felt like the titular character was kind of a prick, and it was all so very Sorkiny.

Eddie Redmayne, well, here we're in kind of a pickle. I personally feel like he did a great job playing Lilli Elbe, but I also agree that it would be nice to see an actual trans person get to play trans characters. Fortunately, since he just won last year for The Theory of Everything, we don't have to worry about him winning here and really pissing people off.

My choice & prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress: Well, let's discount Jennifer Lawrence (she won a couple of years ago for Silver Linings Playbook and Joy is, apart from her performance, not especially interesting). And let's likewise discount Charlotte Rampling. 45 Years was, as I described it to Teagan, an "old people having feelings" movie. We got fewer of those than in previous years, which is good, but we still got this one. This is her first Oscar nom, and I understand that she's feeling protective, but her "racist against white people" thing was pretty awful.

Could Cate Blanchett take it for Carol? I just watched Carol today, and I liked it well enough. I thought it was pretty slow paced, and honestly pretty by the numbers, but I did appreciate that the movie didn't end with anyone dying or committing suicide or something awful. It ends with hope, and like I said, that's refreshing. But I don't think the role is interesting enough to take home an Oscar, not when the other two contenders are also Best Picture nominees.

Saoirse Ryan is up for Brooklyn, and Brie Larson is up for Room. Now, Ryan really carries Brooklyn, and Larson has a lot of help from the boy who plays her son in Room (Jacob Tremblay, who I'm kind of sad didn't get a Best Supporting Actor nom), but I feel like Larson has the more challenging role. Brooklyn is a pretty standard love story, while Room is brutal and really skillfully made. Plus I think the subject matter might be more topical, since it hasn't been so very long since the Ariel Castro story broke? (Maybe that's just me, since I live in Cleveland.)

My choice & prediction: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actor: I forgot Tom Hardy was nominated, actually. His role in The Revenant was really impressive; I like villains that at least make some attempt at being OK people, even if briefly. I don't think he's taking it...although I don't know, he's pretty popular and the movie is one of the big contenders. Hmm.

Well, I kind of doubt that Christian Bale is taking it for The Big Short (he's won not too terribly long ago for The Fighter, and The Big Short is more an ensemble piece anyway). I don't think Mark Ruffalo is taking it for Spotlight, though I'm happy he got the nom. That leaves Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, which was easily the best performance in that movie (no offense to Tom Hanks) and Sylvester Stallone in Creed.

I think Rylance's reward is the nomination. The role was really good, but pretty subtle, and I think the Academy is going to go with Sly. He's playing a role that got him an Oscar nom back in 1976. And, in fairness, he kills it; he plays Rocky with a familiar and warm touch, nicely sliding over the silliness of the middle Rocky movies. So I dunno. I think the Academy will like that better than the others. Of the existing nominees, I'm a little torn. I'd like Creed to get something, but I also think I liked Rylance better.

My choice: Mark Rylance
My prediction: Sylvester Stallone

Best Supporting Actress: Nobody from Mad Max, huh? Ah, well. We've got Rachel McAdams playing one of the team of reporters in Spotlight, which was, again, more an ensemble thing. We've got Rooney Mara in Carol. I actually really like her performance there as a woman falling in love with another woman; she's a bit tentative, but she's not afraid of her feelings and the relationship feels like a real relationship, rather than dwelling (more than it needs to) on the fact that they're both women. Alicia Vikander was fucking amazing in The Danish Girl and in Ex Machina, which might actually win it for her since she'd effectively be getting votes for both roles. Kate Winslet was perfect in a supporting role in Steve Jobs, and while I'm not crazy about the idea of Fassbender winning (he won't), I'd be OK if Winslet won here, I guess.

That leaves Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight. I have to say, I wasn't a fan of that movie. Rather, I love the concept, I love the cast. I didn't care for the execution. It was overlong, relied a bit too much on Quentin Tarantino trying to shock us (the rape in particular was not fucking necessary), and of Leigh's performance, I kind of felt like there wasn't all that much to the character. Like, she's this wanted criminal and people are legitimately afraid of her, but the character that gets the respect in the movie is Kurt Russell's bounty hunter. Doesn't help she spends the whole movie in chains getting punched.

So what's the Academy going to do? I think that they're going to go with Vikander, and I think that's how I feel, too.

My choice & prediction: Alicia Vikander

Best Animated Film: Man, weird slate this year. OK, so, Inside Out is going to win. Pixar rarely loses this category, and this is one of their strongest films. Shaun the Sheep...OK, seriously, why the fuck was this nominated over (off the top of my head) Home? Say what you want about Jim Parsons, but the other star of the movie was a little black girl from Barbados, and that's pretty cool. Shaun the Sheep was a 12 minute short blown up into a full movie, and the only reason I can think of for nominating it is that it's stop-motion, so it's got some technical chops. But it didn't do anything that Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit didn't do a fucking decade ago. Argh.

Anyway, aside from those, we've got Boy and the World, which is this weird Brazilian film that started out as a documentary and wound up being this artistic, kaleidoscope of a movie. My kids and I actually had a discussion about the symbolism in the movie and whether the little kid was literally there or if he was just a memory of older characters, so that was successful, I think. And then When Marnie Was There, a Studio Ghibli film about a girl who goes to the country for the summer and meets up with the ghost of her grandmother as a little girl. It's really sweet and really well done, and not as draggy in the middle as some Ghibli films get.

And then there's fucking Anomalisa. It's a movie about a man who sees everyone as having the same face and voice, but finally meets a woman who has her own, hooks up with her, is prepared to leave his wife and son for her, but then she loses it (from his perspective) and becomes like everyone else. It's a little wanky (Charlie Kauffman, same guy who wrote Adaptation, so he knows wanky). It's interesting, but really awkward and sad.

I think, though, that Inside Out will win it and that's fine.

My choice & prediction: Inside Out

Visual Effects: Holy cats. Here we get three Best Picture Nominees, and that's not always the case! Since Best Picture nominees are often slower dramas, at least in recent years, finding movies that have enough visual effects to get both noms isn't so common. And yet here's Mad Max, The Revenant, and The Martian in this category, alongside Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I should mention, too, that both Mad Max and Star Wars made it a point to use more practical effects, which for Star Wars in particular is a big deal. (Check out this Cracked article.)

So what's gonna win? I think it's gonna be Mad Max, because the effects in The Martian and The Revenant aren't as showy, and I think that the full extent of what Star Wars did might not be obvious. But I don't know, since that's one of Star Wars' only noms, maybe it'll get rewarded here.

My choice & prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road

Adapted Screenplay: Some year I'll read the books. Anyway, we've got four Best Picture noms plus Carol. Of them, I think Room and The Big Short are the strongest, script-wise. Big Short takes a topic that isn't terribly interesting or sexy and makes it accessible, and even manages to break the fourth wall a bit, which is fun. (Side note: Think Deadpool will get a nom here next year?) Room, as I've said, is a fantastic movie, but I kind of feel like the strength is in the directing and the acting, rather than the script itself. I don't think The Martian is going to take it here, although the strength of that movie is very much in the script as much as anything else. Carol and Brooklyn are both pretty simple stories.

My choice: The Martian
My prediction: The Big Short

Original Screenplay: So here we get Bridge of Spies, which is a Coen brothers script but directed by Stephen Spielberg, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, and a lonely little nomination for Straight Outta Compton.

Let me just say that I think it's crap that Straight Outta Compton wasn't nominated for anything else. Honestly I think it should have been a Best Picture nominee. It should have gotten that Best Ensemble Cast nom I keep asking for, or failing that, someone should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod (not Paul Giamatti, either). I think it's because the Academy is a) old, b) white, and c) completely unversed in why NWA was so important.

But, of the other noms, I think this is a pretty strong list. I like it when not-biopics/dramas get nominated, and this is the category where weird stuff like Ex Machina shows up. And I think Spotlight is probably going to win it, because it isn't going to win Best Picture, or maybe Straight Outta Compton because folks might feel obliged after the backlash for how white everything is? (Nah.) Spotlight is actually a really strong script, so I'd be OK with that.

My choice: Straight Outta Compton
My prediction: Spotlight

Best Director: Well, here we have George Miller kicking all kinds of ass for Fury Road, Alejandro Inarritu for The Revenant (mind, he just won last year for Birdman), Adam McKay for The Big Short, Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, and Lenny Abrahamson for Room.

So, this race is really between Inarritu and Miller. It's not unprecedented for a director to win two years in a row, and Inarritu won the DGA, so that might mean he's getting this, too. But Mad Max was really phenomenally successful, which means more of the voters will have seen it, and Miller's been around a long time and been nominated (and won!) in other categories, but never for directing. So I'm not sure.

My choice: George Miller
My prediction: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Best Picture: Most of the buzz I've seen says The Big Short is going to win, largely because the voting system rewards consensus votes and The Big Short is on everyone's, well, short list. But I want to talk about the nominees.

Unlike previous years, I don't think any of these shouldn't have been nominated. There are movies I would like to have seen in the mix as well, including Straight Outta Compton and Concussion (some of the better work I've seen from Will Smith). Hell, if Ex Machina had gotten on the board, I'd have been happy. But of the eight nominees, the only one I'm truly "meh" about is Brooklyn, and it's not that it's bad, it's just that it's the only one that's really standard Oscar fare (though you could make an argument for Spotlight).

My favorite movies this year were The Revenant (I love the scenery, I love the grueling feeling of the movie, I love the harsh "man-against-everything"), Room (I could gush forever about how the movie depicts trauma and what it does to people, and about how Tremblay played a little boy bouncing back from his experience - also, like Mad Max, rape is a part of the story but never depicted on screen), and Mad Max (because of literally everything about it).

I enjoyed Spotlight a lot. Depictions of journalists actually looking for the truth rather than just pandering to ratings is nice, and hell, you know me. I'm a big fan of movies where people are decent and stand up for what they believe and for other people, and Spotlight has a lot of that. Likewise, while I don't think The Big Short deserves the win, I did appreciate Brad Pitt's character calling out the two newly-rich younger folks and reminding them that the crash of the housing market might have meant that they were wealthy, but it was going to utterly fuck the country.

Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn both fall into the same brainspace for me - they were good movies, but so what? Bridge of Spies had some nice, tense spy-story moments, and Mark Rylance's performance was amazing, but at the end of the day it didn't stick with me like the others.

All in all, though, this was a good crop of nominees. It could have been better, yes, but there's no movie up there that made me want to throw things at the wall. Maybe next year we can make things a shade more diverse, yes?

My choice: Mad Max: Fury Road
My prediction: The Big Short